For long the West has thought that history is on its side and that the global future would and should be in its own image. With the end of the cold war and the implosion of the Soviet Union, this conviction became stronger than ever.
But China’s political system did not turn Western. The state continues to be a very powerful force in the country’s economy. For more than a decade, Chinese political and corporate leaders have been scouring the globe with seemingly bottomless wallets in hand. From Asia to Africa, the U.S., and Latin America, the results are hard to ignore as China has asserted itself as an emerging world power. Less well known is China’s diffuse but expanding footprint in Europe. China is bent on world domination — not with its missiles and aircraft carriers, but by controlling energy, cloud computing, and other industries of the future. China is increasingly relying on military force to back up its territorial claims and growing sphere of influence.
The changing dynamics of the Chinese population more than anything else explain Beijing’s apparent haste in the past few years to expand its territory and global influence. But why this sudden urgency?
That’s because China is doomed to grow old before it grows rich. Its demographics are a disaster, and the economy will follow suit. After decades of the one-child policy, China is set to have one of the highest median-age populations in the world by 2050, and one of the lowest rates of people of working age.
Even Chinese demographers say it will be impossible for China’s economy to ever overtake that of the U.S., whose population is expected to grow by 30 percent to 2050. By then there will be two Chinese for every American, rather than the 4-to-1 ratio that exists today. And thanks to immigration — ironically partly from China — the U.S. will have a larger workforce proportion than the greying Chinese society of tomorrow. And china fears this day will come very soon.
While Chinese power waned, its sense of being the rightful center of the world remained constant. Already, with the establishment of the Chinese republic in 1912, an urge to recover China’s lost prerogatives existed. Chiang Kai-shek soon became a driving force. He kept a diary, and over a period of 20 years starting in 1928, every single entry in that diary contained the word xuechi (雪恥) — “avenge humiliation” — in the top right corner. “Recover Korea. Recover the land that was part of the Han and Tang dynasty.
Dominance in South China Sea
Just like the peaceful history narrative, Beijing is trying to create, its legal claims to surrounding seas don’t hold water. The idea that the South China Sea is “traditional waters” of China is not only irrelevant by international laws and conventions; it is also false. During the first millennium A.D., those waters were primarily used by vessels under Malay, South Asian, or Arab flags. No archeological evidence has been found of any seagoing Chinese vessels even in Chinese waters before the thirteenth century, let alone in South Asian waters.
But in May 2009, China presented its claims in the South China Sea by submitting a map with the so-called nine-dash line to the United Nations. Ignoring the international treaty it had just ratified, China’s claim on about 90 percent of the entire South China Sea drew protests from the Philippines, Vietnam, and other countries. In the past few years, China has become strong, confident, and impatient enough to speed up the realization of its claims.
Beijing is accelerating its bid for global leadership in key technologies, planning to pump more than a trillion dollars into the economy through the rollout of everything from wireless networks to artificial intelligence. For several years Huawei has pursued a strategy to position itself as the world’s biggest supplier of telecommunications equipment, with the goal of dominating global and regional communications infrastructure as well as crucial international digital systems.
In the masterplan backed by President Xi Jinping himself, China will invest an estimated $1.4 trillion over six years to 2025, calling on urban governments and private tech giants like Huawei Technologies Co. to lay fifth-generation wireless networks, install cameras and sensors, and develop AI software that will underpin autonomous driving to automated factories and mass surveillance.
The new infrastructure initiative is expected to drive mainly local giants from Alibaba and Huawei to SenseTime Group Ltd. at the expense of U.S. companies. As tech nationalism mounts, the investment drive will reduce China’s dependence on foreign technology, echoing objectives set forth previously in the Made in China 2025 program. Such initiatives have already drawn fierce criticism from the Trump administration, resulting in moves to block the rise of Chinese tech companies such as Huawei.
The fastest and most proficient state actor to capitalize on technology warfare was the Chinese government whose teams of hackers first attacked US government websites in 1999 during the Kosovo conflict. Since then, their cyber offensives have become increasingly relentless and sophisticated, forcing the United States to allocate large portions of defence spending for network protection. Despite our efforts, China has successfully carried out cyber-attacks against dozens of U.S. corporations including Google, Northrop Grumman, Yahoo, and Dow Chemical. In addition to damaging American financial interests, China has attacked our strategic partnerships by using cyber espionage to eavesdrop on meetings between world leaders, syphon personal information, and load malware onto government networks. China has also used cyber warfare to steal US military technology, including designs for the F-22. Like the Germans circumventing their naval disadvantage by skipping straight to Dreadnought class ships, China quickly matched US fifth-generation fighter capabilities by adapting US designs for a fraction of the cost. While the F-22 project cost American taxpayers approximately $62 billion, China’s J-20 reached initial operational capability for only $4.4 billion. Given the tremendous impact China’s ongoing cyber campaign has had on the US economy and its military; these attacks constitute acts of war that cannot be ignored indefinitely. Today, the United States finds itself in a similarly untenable position in Pacific Command, where it is the guardian of significantly weaker allies such as Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Disputes involving China’s claim to the Spratly Islands with access to rich oil reserves and its ongoing attempts to subvert Taiwan’s sovereignty have already led to a series of dangerous military encounters.
Chinese Debt Trap
For China, economic expansion serves three purposes; subverting US hegemonic influence, bolstering its own legitimacy as a world power, and overcoming its dwindling supply of domestic natural resources. Chinese corporations have targeted struggling economies with weak political infrastructures such as Somalia where Chinese trawlers have displaced local fishermen, Mozambique whose forests are now decimated, and other African countries like South Africa, Namibia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo where scores of mining contracts have been awarded. Closer to home, China even attempted to harvest one of the world’s largest copper reserves in Afghanistan where US troops have been deployed since 2001. A larger Chinese economic footprint has resulted in new military strongholds as well. Since 2015, China has been the leading trade partner in South America. It has provided billions of dollars in loans to rescue struggling economies such as Brazil, Venezuela, and Ecuador where China now controls 90% of the country’s oil reserves. When China rescued Argentina’s government from defaulting on $100 billion worth of bonds in 2009, it was rewarded with a satellite control station in Patagonia that provides critical intelligence gathering and challenges the US advantage in the space domain.
Over the last few years, Chinese companies have grown to become globally competitive rivals to American firms. In 2019 Fortune Magazine released its Global 500 list, which ranked the largest companies in the world by revenue, and for the first time, Chinese businesses outnumber American companies. The companies represent a wide variety of industries including technology, oil & gas, and banking. Some are household consumer brands, while others are state-owned industrial businesses.
In the past few years, China has become strong, confident, and impatient enough to speed up the realization of its claims. Beijing now seems, more than ever, determined to move forward from Mao Zedong’s revolutionary legacy and Deng Xiaoping’s iconic dictum. Beijing also appears poised to expand its global power and influence through the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, expansive build-up and modernization of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), assertive foreign policy, and forceful public diplomacy. Underpinning these strategic activities are various ancillary strategies – maritime, space, and cyberspace – all interlinked with the grand strategy of the Chinese Dream. Xi has irreversibly moved China away from the legacies of Mao and Deng, and resolutely set the country on the continued path of the Chinese Dream – a strategic roadmap for national rejuvenation (grand strategy) that interlinks all ancillary strategies. But is the world blind to all the sweatshop diplomacy that China has been running? China plans on land grab tactics with almost all of its neighbours and builds its power at the cost of its neighbours. This behaviour is bringing hatred towards China more than ever now. The Chinese strangle-hold on democracy shall never see the light of the day.
05 June 20/Friday Written By: Saima Ibrahim